Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide
09/29 Design Tips

Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide

Our go-go tips for styling any built-in

Shelf styling is one of our team’s favorite decorating techniques… 

but it’s also one of the trickiest. We get questions about the process all the time, and although we’ve been doing it for years, we know how daunting it can be! 

If you’re thinking about updating your shelfie or creating a styled shelf for the first time, keep scrolling for some inspiration! 

Here’s our go-to shelf styling process: 

Step 1: Create a blank canvas 

No matter what kind of shelves we’re styling, we always empty our shelves first and everything out. That way, we can start fresh and see the space we’re working with in a new light. A blank canvas is helpful when styling anything, but in our opinion, especially built-ins! 

Explore our McGee & Co 2021 Fall Collection here. 

Take a mental inventory of what you’re working with. Start envisioning what pieces of decor you want to place next to each other and how you want to create groupings. What products do you want to be seen first? Is there anything missing? Anything you don’t want to include? 

Pro tip: Take a photo of your before and after to see your progress. If you’re trying to build a design portfolio, don’t be afraid to share it on social media! Everyone loves a good before and after shot. 

Textural storage pieces

Use baskets to de-clutter and bring a textural element to the look.
Shop more basket pieces
McGee & Co
Handled Basket
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Round Seagrass Basket
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Square Seagrass Basket
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Mojave Basket (Set of 2)
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Cordova Basket
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Tapered Handled Basket
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Seagrass Handled Basket
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Rectangle Seagrass Basket

Step 2: Consider what you’re working with 

Once you have cleared everything from your shelves, look at what you already have, and start grouping your objects by size. This process makes it easier once you start styling, and it helps you to see the common thread in your pieces and consider what you may want to add to your collection. 

Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide
Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide

See more of our 2021 Fall Collection at McGee & Co here.

Step 3: Ground the look with substantial pieces 

Start by using your largest items first to create focal points to style around. Vases, baskets, bowls, art, or other large decor items are perfect for adding substance and visual weight to a built-in. 

We typically like to stagger these items so that they don’t stack on top of each other and are not right next to each other, which helps create balance! 

Stylist secret: It helps to place all of your similar objects at the same time. For example, style all of your vases, then your baskets, etc. 

Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide
Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide

From our 2021 Fall Collection at McGee & Co.

Substantial décor favorites

Add substance to your visual weight with large décor pieces.
Shop more favorites
McGee & Co
Roses
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Travertine Striped Box
McGee & Co
Rounded White Vase
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Alabaster Tea-light Holder
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Marble Bookends (Set of 2)
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Fluted Bowl
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Inlay Bone Frame
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Handled Bottleneck Vase
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Wooden Chain Links

Step 4: Start to create groupings with your smaller items 

This next step can be the hardest part of the process, but also the most rewarding! We love to create groupings with our medium and small objects to fill in the spaces that our large pieces don’t occupy. 

Stacking books, adding in boxes, and pairing two similar elements together are some of our favorite go-to’s. This is also the perfect time to add personal touches like family photos or collected objects to make it your own! 

Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide
Built in Styling 101: Our Step-By-Step Guide

See more of our 2021 Fall Collection here. 

Accent styling pieces

Create groupings with medium to small objects and fill in the space.
More décor pieces
McGee & Co
Aluminum Crosshatch Object
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Architectural Digest at 100
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Tapered Marble Bookends (Set of 2)
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Gold Loop Object
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Bucharest Iron Bells
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Great Escapes Europe
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Knotted Marble Object
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Aged Brass Bells (Set of 3)
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Pacific Natural
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Industrial Weave Object
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Faceted Bone Beads
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Handcrafted Linen Book
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Iron Cubed Object
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Jute & Wood Garland
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Down To Earth
Show Comments
15 Comments
Studio McGee
  1. Thanks for the awesome tips! Any chance you will share the color white? I’m in the process of building and love the white of the built-ins you are styling. Thanks

  2. Love these tips! When prepping for your install, do you moodboard and preplan particular pieces on the computer, or just pull and brings lots of options to play with?

    1. Hi Claire! It depends, but usually a mix of both! We like to have a general idea of the mood we’re going for but stay flexible and play with things as we go.

  3. I’d like to paint the back of my shelves. What kind (flat, satin, semi-gloss, etc.) and color is the white paint on your shelves?

  4. What if you have one big open space? We have 2 niches on either side of our fireplace. Bellow the space are 2 cabinets. The niches are about 3’ wide by 2’ tall and about 2’ deep??

  5. Very nice post. Ive really enjoyed visiting your blog posts. Whatever the case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and i also hope you write again soon! Thanks, I’ll try and visit often. Happy new year!

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